Fourth Sunday of Advent. Fr Andrew Brookes invites us to take a role in the drama of salvation.
If you listen to interviews given by actors, they will often tell you they want to work with good script writers and directors, and alongside great actors. We do not need to want to perform on stage or in film, but each of us are invited to work with the greatest writer, director and human performer ever. Today’s readings point to God as supreme author, director and performer in the drama which is human history. Seeing and appreciating this, we are invited us to take up roles offered to us.
A feature of many great plays and films is the denouement, the final part of the play or film in which the different strands of the plot are drawn together and matters explained or resolved. Drawing together diverse themes, and seemingly disconnected data is the mark of a good writer, who, of course, had planned the telling of the whole narrative with the end in mind.
In this regard, God is a truly great author. The Old Testament maps out great themes in the interactions of God and humanity. Pointers to the final resolution are put down in the form of prophecies. The diverse Old Testament texts are full of images and phrases that that hint at a fulness of meaning still to be made plain. There is a greater author at work in and through the human authors, an older author, a transcendent author but one who is deeply immersed in his work and demonstrating immense creativity and insight.
If God can be considered a great author, God can also be considered a great director of a play or film, though the performance is not fiction but fact, not fantasy but history. It is not just human history but the fulfilment of a divine plan. God works with humans, drawing on their potential, respecting their freedom, but realising his own vision through it all.
If good writing is foundational, and good directing is vital, good casting is also crucial. God does not just write and direct, he takes on the burden of the central part, the one that has to be played perfectly or the whole venture will fail.
Let us look at little more closely at the readings to see God as author, director and leading actor. The prophet Micah worked from approximately 740 to 700 BC. King David had been born in Bethlehem. Micah prophesied another person would be born there and would reign over Israel bringing in a secure future. But he points to someone intriguing: a human who at once has origins deeply and mysteriously old, and who brings God’s presence, power and majesty to bear, himself being peace. We see God the author powerfully at work here. Possible meanings had long been considered but How long those words must have been pondered in the centuries that followed, their possible meanings carefully considered. Yet with breathtaking simplicity the words found a most perfect fulfilment in the Incarnation of God in the line of David, and his birth at Bethlehem.
700 years or so later than Micah, two women become pregnant, both in unusual ways, both having been given divine insight into the destinies of their children. We see God the director at work here. They meet and God again works through them and through the babies they carry, to bring both women to greater knowledge and participation in his plans. Elizabeth’s husband had been told by God’s angel that her own son – John the Baptist – would go ahead of the Lord, announcing and preparing the coming of the Lord himself. Still a foetus within his mother, he senses the presence of the Lord in the womb of Mary and moves in his own mother’s womb. The Holy Spirit guides Elizabeth to understand he is even then announcing the coming of the Lord in the womb of Mary. ‘Why should I be honoured with a visit by the mother of my Lord?’ Mary has believed and conceived, but she is to go on believing for there is still more to be fulfilled. God works through humans, directing their lives and giving them knowledge of his plan as author, and giving them roles in his work.
But God became human to take on the key role himself, one which is too demanding for anyone else. That role is indicated in prophetic text after prophetic text, often given hundreds of years earlier. The second reading cites one from Psalm 40. Humans had failed to do God’s will perfectly, and their sacrifices were not really adequate to bring about enduring salvation. What is essential is someone who does the will of God for an entire life: ‘Here I am, I come to obey your will.’ The one who is given a body to do this perfectly is God himself, the Lord present in the womb of Mary. Able to do the will of God, and humanly obedient all his life, obedient unto death, offering himself as a perfect sacrifice, Jesus brought about our lasting salvation. He overcame sin. We can now be made holy and brought into lasting communion with God, as Micah also glimpsed.
Advent, especially as it comes to a climax, brings out the sense of God as author, director and he performer of human salvation. The whole narrative and direction are deep and awe-inspiring, the central performance is unique in the presence and power it contains. The denouement through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is brilliant and breathtaking. And that denouement is not yet complete: there is more to come for he is still to return to fulfil remaining texts and prophecies. Until then, he continues to be present with us, to direct and shape history and to call each person to take a part in the ongoing drama of human history. With such an author, such a director and such a lead actor, let us confidently put ourselves at God’s disposal to take on the unique roles given to each of us in the greatest drama that exists.
Image: Mural from the church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP